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Fitbit helps maximise patient retention for clinical trials

1 August 2016

Fitbit, the wearable fitness manufacturer and Fitabase, a research platform, are providing a valuable source of data for a range of clinical trials.

Fitabase has collected over 2 billion minutes of data over the past four years from users who wear Fitbit to measure their physical activity, sleep pattern and heart rate. Changing the way medical research is being conducted, Fitabase and Fitbit are working with institutions including John Hopkins University and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre to tap into data collected from Fitbit users around the world.

"Historically, measuring participants' activity, sleep, and heart rate data over significant periods of time has been logistically difficult to collect and costly to measure," said Aaron Coleman, CEO of Fitabase. "Fitbit's consumer-friendly technology provides our customers with an accurate, meaningful way to capture 24/7, real-time data so they can design innovative study protocols in ways not possible before."

Historically, researchers have relied on self-reported data, which is subject to bias and other measurement errors, especially when related to sleep. Patients may recall a full eight hours sleep but are unaware of REM and restlessness throughout the night. Fitbit data is able to give a more accurate depiction of rest and activity across the board. 

Fitbit and Fitabase havealso teamed up for a study on minimally invasive spine surgeries for degenerative disease and deformity, such as correcting scoliosis - the trackers are being used to monitor physical activity to better predict recovery rates.

If the study is successful, physicians hope to be able to use a physical activity monitoring approach to predict which patients are at risk of hospital readmission. This can then be applied to other trials. 

On top of increasing access to data, Fitbit has been linked to improvement in patient recruitment and retention for clinical trials. UCSF have jumped on this opportunity and will soon launch a study to test the impact of improved physical fitness among patients waiting for liver transplants. All 200 patients awaiting transplant will be equipped with Fitbit Alta to help them stay physically active and to measure the impact this has on transplant success.

“My patients told me very clearly that, if they were going to wear a device, it had to be easy to wear, easy to use, and offer information they cared about in an accessible fashion. I have found that providing patients with health trackers can be a motivating factor – and sometimes the deciding factor – for deciding to participate or not,” said Jennifer Lai, MD, a general and transplant hepatologist at UCSF. “We are hoping that a name brand device will encourage people to join and engage in the study.”


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